Tiger Woods grinds through 23 holes at the Masters and somehow gets better. How?

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods is 48 going on 68 on good days, probably more like 78 on the others. His body is a mess, especially his right leg that was crushed and rebuilt after his 2021 car crash. The only way he can compete on tour these days is to give himself plenty of time between rounds to recover, ice up, get some rest and try again the next day. To circumvent any part of that process is to tempt fate, likely leading to a poor round, a missed cut and one fewer tournament left to be played in Tiger’s storied career.

So how do we explain what happened Friday at the Masters, when Tiger had to play 23 holes in a gusting wind with only a 52-minute break between the first five and the last 18, and actually got better as the day wore on?

“A long day, it’s been a long day, it was a good fight, we did really well out there,” he said afterward, looking absolutely exhausted after a second-round, even-par 72 left him one-over for the tournament. “I’m tired. I’ve been out there for awhile, competing, grinding. It’s been a long 23 holes, a long day.”

But then, as only Tiger could, he spun the conversation to his favorite topic: Winning. Or at least contending. Here. This weekend. Really.

“I'm right there,” he said a tad optimistically since he really isn’t, as the leaders were 6- or 7-under par at the time. “I don't think anyone is going to run off and hide right now, but it's really bunched. The way the ball is moving on the greens, chip shots are being blown, it's all you want in a golf course today.”

Tiger Woods tees off on No. 4 during the second round of the Masters on Friday.
Tiger Woods tees off on No. 4 during the second round of the Masters on Friday.

Max Homa, one of Tiger’s playing partners, finished the day at 6-under, which ended up being good enough to tie for the lead by day’s end. At 33, he is from a generation that grew up idolizing Tiger, so he naturally spoke of his awe in playing two rounds with him at Augusta National.

“It really is a dream to get to play with him here,” Homa said. “I've been saying, I always wanted to just watch him hit iron shots around here, and I was right up next to him. It was really cool. His short game was so good. I don't think I can explain how good some of the chip shots he hit today were.

“We had a really quick turnaround (after finishing the first round Friday morning), and if I was feeling tired and awful, I imagine he was feeling even worse.”

Homa thought Tiger’s knowledge of the course — Woods just made his 24th consecutive Masters cut, a new record, passing Fred Couples (1983-2007) and Gary Player (1959-82) — was especially helpful on a day like Friday.

“He understands this golf course so well, but he hits such amazing golf shots. His iron play is so good that even when he did miss the green, you could tell he had so much control.”

As the players finished on the 18th green Friday, it was as if they had suddenly reached the Sahara. The wind picked up significantly, whipping sand from the bunkers right at them.

“I turned around five times so I didn't get crushed in the face,” Homa said, “and (Tiger is) standing there like a statue and then poured it right in the middle. So all the cliches you hear about him and all the old stories about how he will grind it out, it was fun to see that in person.”

Tiger has won 15 majors, but it has been five years now since his last, the 2019 Masters. The victories are smaller these days, but they are still there, like overcoming all the odds to play another day or two.

Who saw this coming? Actually, there probably is one guy who did.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tiger Woods grinds through 23 holes at Masters and somehow gets better